a few recently watched genre films

looper. pretty good but a little overhyped, i think.

lockout. yes, it is escape from new york in space. and yes, it’s a luc besson production. but goddammit, guy pearce is magnificent as a knowing action star knock-off. worth watching for that reason alone. alas there are as few people of colour in the future in this film as in looper.

sorum. a south korean film, billed as horror, and certainly utilizing many horror film tropes but not really a horror film; or at least you’ll be disappointed if you come expecting genre goosebumps. but it is really quite good, with some great performances and a very bleak view of lives on the fringes of global capitalism and the dislocations and ruptures of community attendant on it.


Joe Wright’s trippy little “action film” seems to have begun as a straightforward high-concept no-brainer — teen girl, raised by father just inside the Arctic circle, is a survivalist wunderkind with a backstory just waiting to be booted up. And, sure enough, a few minutes in dad (Eric Bana, with a German accent) digs up a transponder, asks his daughter if she’s really ready, and she flips the switch to transmit.

Cue their rapid departure, the arrival of secret super-spy teams led by twisty clearly-evil Marissa (Cate Blanchett, with an American-Southern accent), and set things running. There’s an awful lot of running, which even the Chemical Brothers can’t fully justify. Hanna (Saiorse Ronan, playing in a bunch of languages) is Candide via Jason Bourne. There are some great action set-pieces–many pastiches of various of Wright’s influences, but all filmed with joy and wit and aforementioned thumping techno soundtrack, even if it’s a bit long, not terribly tight.

Wright gave the genetic blueprint for this story–all too familiar–some great goosing from Grimms’ fairy tales, and it’s filmed with all kinds of digressive style, too. I loved Ronan, loved the energy of the film, enjoyed its willingness to play by the rules and its equally firm commitment to perverse dislocations. It’s a bit too quilted–there’s a Kubrick fetish I kind of dig, but you can see a lot of the stitching, and the film could probably have used another script revision, or even better a willingness to go a lot more strange. (There’s an aggravating subtext about the evils of the childless witchy Marissa that could go away. Let her be the wolf; Blanchett doesn’t need to be saddled with the tired trope of the barren feminine.) But mostly the film is a sign of filmmakers in love with all kinds of genre films, and it’s definitely worth a look.


I (sort of) enjoyed this film, directed by Matteo Garrone and based upon the book by Roberto Saviano–the much talked about exposé of organized crime in Naples. The film adopts the multi-plot structure. The story of a war between two factions within the Camorra (hence the title–in Italian, the C is soft like a G) is told from five perspectives. One is of a grocery delivery boy named Totò. He manages to work his way into one of the factions by returning a gun and some cocaine that was dropped by a gangster during a police chase. Another is of Pasquale, a tailor who makes high fashion knock-offs (one of the big sources of cash for the Camorra) who then sells his talent to a rival, a Chinese-Italian who runs a factory making even cheaper high fashion knock-offs. Continue reading Gomorra

On the fundamental ridiculousness of a certain kind of horror film

You’ve got to wonder how certain pitch meetings ever closed the deal. Imagine sitting down with this Irish fellow, a hot young prospect in an industry starting to stretch its global legs and move past the endless green hills & spirited lasses & the troubles & gnarled-wise-drunken old men & pubs of romanticized Eire. He says he’s got this crackin’ idea for horror (horror? in Irish film? feck yeah!), feeding on the European terrors of gen mod. “Great,” says the Film Board, “jes great. So what’s the pitch?”

Cows. Yeah, no, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. End of meeting. Except… Continue reading On the fundamental ridiculousness of a certain kind of horror film

Days of Heaven (1978)

Last summer I tried to watch The Thin Red Line. I didn’t get too far. All of the huge name actors showing up throughout reminded me too much of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what Terrence Malick was going for. (Isn’t Phil Silvers in the Thin Red Line for a minute?)

The New World, well, Colin Farrell insured that I’d stay away from that one. But I was really struck by the cinematography of the Assassination of Jesse James, which of course got compared – poorly often – to Malick, though I thought the shots there were quite beautiful.

So, heartened by its 90 minute running time, I picked up the new Criterion edition of Days of Heaven. Anyone seen this recently? It’s really an impressive piece of work. The cinematography, of course, but also Sam Shepard’s performance – just the way his face looked throughout – was wonderful. Richard Gere, alas, looked like Richard Gere. Usually movies in the 1970s had the decency to cast actors who didn’t look like freaking models from the pages of Vogue. Except for Gere. He looks like the Fonz when he’s supposed to be working in a filthy Chicago factory.
Continue reading Days of Heaven (1978)

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) / Cassavetes / Peter Falk

We talked a while back about the remarkable movie Keane, and a couple questions were brought up concerning depictions of mental illness on film that don’t collapse into the redemption-by-love / Sally-Field-TV-movie stereotypes.

We had just finished watching Return of the Secaucus 7 and were talking about filmmakers who self-financed their work through acting and writing for other people’s movies. So we decided to watch a few Cassavetes films.

This is a tough one to start with. Continue reading A Woman Under the Influence (1974) / Cassavetes / Peter Falk

You shitty, shitty, shit-faced Danes.

Saw two films with ambitions to reframe the satire of corporate mindsets, one of which fell apart (or maybe never really cohered at all), the other of which I loved.

Severance sends a group of corporate-office types out for some team-building in the backwoods of Hungary, then sics some rejects from Hostel at ’em. The film’s set-up–and its snarky title–gave me high hopes, as it promised to be a scary slasher flick and a caustic deconstruction of cutthroat capitalism. Alas, it was not to be. The humor is mild, rarely cutting; the cutting, too, is mild, and rarely interesting.

Meanwhile, Lars von Trier’s The Boss of it All seemed in reviews to be all trite concept (actor hired to impersonate a boss never seen by the office) and trite aestheticism (yet again, von Trier trots out some technical device meant to bang your head against the fourth wall–a camera that randomly shifts its framing of the shot, so that characters are seen from the bridge of their nose up, or four-fifths off to the left of our view). It was, however, a hoot–and smart, returning to old themes for this director (the purpose of art, the failures of sentiment, the hopeless inadequacy of realism) and this genre (the narcissism of corporate ambition, the false bonhomie of community, the acidity of greed) but working all kinds of lovely and–despite so much obviousness–many subtle, sly, often outstanding variations. It’s one of my favorite films of the year. Continue reading You shitty, shitty, shit-faced Danes.

Sam Fuller

I hate to shift gears, particularly since the thread on Xala is terrific, but I watched Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One last night and I was mightily impressed. I had seen this film long ago, on network television I think. Maybe it was USA or something, because I don’t recall much being deleted. But I couldn’t resist revisiting the film since it’s been “reconstructed”–that is to say, some 45 minutes have been restored. My recollection of the theatrical version is too dim to make any comments about the differences between it and the “reconstructed” version (for anyone who is interested in that, watch the bonus DVD, which has “before and after” scene comparisons). So let me instead just sing praises. Continue reading Sam Fuller